San Diego State teaks on St. John's out of the Big East conference and the tip off Friday night at 9:40 p.m. ET and on CBS. Besides that what do we really know about the Johhnies; well they do have that slick haired former UCLA coach and TV guy Steve Lavin running the show.
To get a better look at the St. John Red Storm we bring in the fine folks from Rumble in the Garden to answer the burning questions about this matchup and team.
1. How will not having Chris Obekpa change the way St. John's play against San Diego State?
St. John's depends on Chris Obekpa to be the back line of the defense, the eraser; and that allows the Johnnies to play defense much closer to their man and funnel them in to Obekpa (or Dom Pointer). It has the effect of making opponents hear footsteps when it's working at its best. When motivated, Obekpa is also a decent defender in the post against a big man; he played decently against Duke Jahlil Okafor, for example.But in other games, Obekpa sometimes comes up with little aches, or jogs back on defense to conserve energy; he's not the best rebounder. Of course, the players behind him are far less impactful and far more prone to fouls, so the change will likely be a five-guard lineup for St. John's as long as they can stay on the floor.
2. San Diego State plays a very defensive game, what can be expected from the Red Storm offense?
The Johnnies will try to push the pace in transition and take shots within the first 8-10 seconds of clock while the defense is out of its shape; if they don't find a shot, they'll drain the shot clock and heave something up from beyond the arc (or just inside the arc). Harrison and Rysheed will also look to slash inside and draw fouls. Phil Greene IV is the x-factor. He can get hot and hit threes from the corner. And Sir`Dominic Pointer's ability to attack in transition and make good passing decisions after grabbing a defensive rebound is essential - as is his ability to score from the high post.
3. On the other side of the court, San Diego State is not the best offensive team. What does St. John's do well defensively?
With Obekpa? They block shots. Without Obekpa? They block shots. Sir`Dominic Pointer is a very good shot blocker in his own right, and the players will throw a couple of zones (1-3-1 or maybe a 1-1-3? at times) to save energy and confuse opponents. The players are quick enough to collapse inside in those defenses and force steals that power their offense... sometimes they are quick enough to get out on shooters on the outside.>Sometimes they are not, and the Red Storm was at the bottom half of the Big East in defensive efficiency.
4. Steve Lavin has had good tournament success at UCLA, while Steve Fisher has struggled some with SDSU, so what makes Lavin a good tournament coach?
...last week he said, after the Providence game, that he's a bad conference tournament coach. At UCLA I think his players just played free in NCAA Tournaments, against teams that weren't as familiar with the personnel as conference foes would be. Those teams reach their raw talent level, I guess. Will the same happen for St. John's? I can't quite say...
5. What has caused recent struggle for St. John's as they lost their last two games, prior to that they went 7-1?
Injuries to Obekpa and Jamal Branch left them shorthanded against a very good and clinical Villanova team. Against Providence... Basically, Providence tried a different defensive approach than in the two conference games (where Providence lost). The Friars cut off Dom Pointer's transition game and covered the Johnnies tightly on the perimeter, where they had packed in the defense in previous games. It worked - the Red Storm used to be a very poor outside shooting team with an addiction to long two-pointers, and this season they're shooting from outside and opening up the court.
So maybe the Johnnies have been figured out.
6. What is your prediction?
Painful game, with a streak in the second half by St. John's. Actually, because it makes no sense logically and that's how this team works, I'll predict a hard-fought St. John's victory, 62-59.